Writer Nate Grayson is a man in a hurry. Too much of a hurry, in fact, to post much more than a snippet of the long interview we gave him about our thoughts on Cyberpunk 2077 for Rock, Paper, Shotgun. But never fear, goboys; here’s the whole thing verbatim for your elucidation. Typos and all. Enjoy!
Cyberpunk 2077 – Rock Paper Shotgun – The FULL Interview
What, in your opinion, distinguishes Cyberpunk from other cyberpunk works?
CP 2020 is a fully realized world that is directly extrapolated from our own. Many other cyberpunk worlds are basically formed around the concept of the cyberpunk genre, so that they have little historical or real referent to our own world. In writing Cyberpunk 2020, we were very careful to make sure that (up to a point) the world we drew was one that could be a reasonable extrapolation of a future we might just be living through in a few years. CP also has a great cast of characters with complex, interesting histories that have been built up over the 20+ years of interacting with our fans.
What are the key elements that you feel like CD Projekt’s ideally suited to transfer over into videogame form?
Cyberpunk 2020 is about key places, characters and technologies. You have to have characters like Morgan, Johnny Silverhand and Alt’; they’re fan faves that have generated tons of fan fiction. You can’t have Cyberpunk 2020 without the evil ninja-corp Arasaka and it’s paranoid corporate heads. Places like the Afterlife; the Forlorn Hope—these are the sites where a million adventures started in so many player’s own games. CD Projekt’s team are fans—and they GET that these things are important; that they make Cyberpunk what it is. They remember things I’ve forgotten about my own world sometimes!
- In the video of you that went out recently, you made reference to multiple attempts to turn Cyberpunk into a game. How far along did those get? Did any of them make it past the initial talking phase? And lastly, why’d they fail?
The only one that was outstanding was a cellphone-based game done in the mid 2000’s by a Spanish company called Arasaka’s Quest. It really got the feel. Many of the other attempts died when the developers couldn’t pull together enough funding, or pull off the technology, or more importantly, made it pretty clear from the outset that they didn’t know the Cyberpunk world and pretty much just wanted to paste the name on something else they had in development.
You’re collaborating on Cyberpunk 2077, but how much? How often do you go over to Poland? How much of the game do you get to see on a regular basis? Have you completely shot down or vetoed anything CDP suggested on the grounds that it just didn’t fit?
I’m actually pretty involved in 2077; I’ve been part of the story and dev conferences both on-site and via the net. I get over to Poland about every 5-6 months and spend at least a week there meeting and talking to the whole team. I see the updates when they get posted and I talk to the whole team at least once a week in long Skype meetings where we cover mechanics, concepts, plots, dumb ideas; you name it. As for shooting down stuff—yeah, in the beginning, there were a few ideas that came out of left field, but we all got zeroed in pretty fast on what we all wanted and it’s been pretty solid ever since.
2077’s more than 50 years removed from Cyberpunk’s original setting. What’s it been like for you to re-imagine this world as it’s evolved? What were the most important things you had to consider?
Actually, my task has been to extrapolate what has happened since the 4th Corporate War in 2024 all the way up to the 2077 timeline. The biggest issue is explaining how the technology has not evolved far more than 50 years would actually allow. But if I told you more right now about how I worked it out, I would either have to get an NDA from you or send Morgan Blackhand out to kill you. Just saying’.
Moreover, what’s it been like helping re-imagine this world as a videogame? That’s a huge change from pen and paper. There’s a lot more power to create a sense of “there-ness,” but I imagine it’s also more restricting in terms of actions players can take and things of that nature. Would you like to see a videogame try and capture that element of freedom pen and paper offers? Do you think Cyberpunk 2077 has a shot at being that game?
I’ve been working this out as a videogame for years, actually. I sometimes consider my time on Matrix Online as a good prep for this project, but R.Tal was actually involved in an official Cyberpunk 2020 MMO back in the late 90’s and we had to work out many of the issues back then. We have tons more tools to work with now, and the ability to make sandbox worlds that accurately reflect the elements of tabletop game play. I’ve seen a lot of the tools that CDPR will use in 2077—there’s a staggering amount of potential there to pull this off.
What drives you, as a creator, to make these kinds of things? In the video, you talk about walking around a city at night and wanting to bring that feeling into the future. But where does your mind go when you do that kind of thing? When you think of the future, does it frighten you? Is it exciting? Both?
I just like telling stories. Always have. I originally wanted to be a writer, but that was before role-playing came along an added an extra dimension of interactivity. There are so many stories that happen in the middle of the night, but only gaming allows you to be an active participant. I love film noir, and creating a game world like Cyberpunk allows me to create my own hard boiled stories with a science fiction edge. The future doesn’t frighten me—yet. But it challenges me. The possibilities are exciting and scary, but ultimately, it’s only frightening if you run from them.
How often do you play videogames these days? Also, which ones? Have any of them influenced your pen and paper work?
Not as much as I did in the past. I actually spend more time watching other people play and analyzing what is going on—it’s far more instructional for me. Many of my fellow designers do the same thing, and we trade observations. Right now, I’m hitting Assassin Creed III after a long run on AC I and Brotherhood. Planning to replay Red Dead Redemption again when I get caught up on my schedule. Just ran through the entire Lego Star Wars series and Scribblenaughts before that. I just bought four different Mobile Suit Gundam games for the PS2 and and starting to play them in rotation to compare the design styles. I’m also getting into WWI naval games—just bought Jutland and am experimenting with the solo play possibilities. Do these games influence my P&P work? Of course. EVERYTHING influences my P&P work. I can’t go to the store without something ending up in the mental hopper. I probably buy a dozen games a month; boardgames, wargames, RPGs, videogames—I have whole closets of games.
- Have you played any of the videogame cyberpunk classics — for instance, Deus Ex? If so, are you a fan? What do you think games like that get right? What do you think they could do better?
I played the original DE and enjoyed it a lot; Warren Spector is a master at layering complex plots and inferences; although Deus Ex always felt more like a conspiracy game than a cyberpunk game to me. But it’s a great game and a landmark of the genre. Mirror’s Edge is great (but too clean). System Shock. Oni (Bungie). Perfect Dark. Ghost in the Shell. Matrix. And GTA3 is basically cyberpunk minus the hardware. Actually, one of my favorites is an obscure game called Cities of Steel—its more of a vehicle shooter than an RPG, but for some reason, it just had the right atmosphere to me; all echoes and dark city caverns. In the end, there has to be the right atmosphere; the right level of engagement; a world of human scaled characters fighting inhuman organizations, using technology to level to odds, but not to become supermen.